So, it's time to take stock and make sure I've got everything I need in order to weather the cold air on the bike.
It's a nearly new bike, with only a few hundred miles on it, so there aren't any major issues, and all the components are in top shape. A Kansas winter will be a good test of it.
Knobby tires: Well, sorta. The stock tires on my Kona Dew Drop are Continental CountryRide. They won't do too well in standing snow, I don't think, but they're fine in wet conditions. With any tires, though, it pays to ride very carefully when it's wet.
Fenders: Check. I don't have the rear fenders on, but the commuter panniers I got from NashBar serve the same purpose. If it's crazy wet, I'll bolster their water resistance by lining some plastic on the inside.
Brakes: Check. Disc brakes, stock to the Dew Drop. One of the reasons I picked up that particular bike. They’ll serve no matter the weather.
Wind Breaker: Check.
Layers: Check. I have plenty from last winter. Wicking layers, thicker warming layers for when it gets really cold, and the wind breaker will serve. I can double up the under layers for those sub zero days. The key is to layer layer layer.
Layers: Check. My legs don't get nearly as cold as my torso, so I don't need as much. Winter leggings and thick sweats will do. Standard bike shorts under the leggings will serve as an extra layer as well where it counts.
Hands, Feet and Head (aka “extremities”)
My fingers and toes are the hardest to keep warm when it gets really cold, so I've devoted more energy and thought towards them than everything else combined.
Winter Gloves: Check. I have thin and thick fingered gloves for cool and cooler days, lobster gloves for cold days, and neoprene liners for very cold days.
Shoes: Check. They’re basic MTB shoes, if you consider $200 basic. At least I got them for half price.
Shoe Covers: Check. Toe covers for cold days. Neoprene boots for very cold days. I can double up the toe covers and the boots for exceedingly cold days. For cooler days that aren't quite cold enough for the boots, I have a stock of plastic bags I wear between the shoes and my socks to help keep the wind off my toes. It's a very effective and very cheap method. I like the Target plastic the best.
Socks: Check. Wool. I need a couple more pairs, but I'm pretty good here.
Head Cover: See below.
Helmet: See below.
Eye Wear: See below.
What I'm lacking
There are a few things I’m missing, though. I need something for my head, and better riding glasses.
Where the head is concerned, I have some specific requirements that others might not share. I’m not a fan of the balaclava, b/c I don’t like my face covered. While it does get cold, even the coldest days last year didn’t make me wish for something over my face. It’s just a pet-peeve of mine, I guess. What I’d like is a hood that covers my whole head and neck, but leaves my face open. Something tight, made of neoprene, I think, would be nice.
I’ll also need a helmet that’s got a generous enough fit that I can wear it with and without the additional layer over my head. My current helmet fits my head fine, but when I start layering, it’s a little too small.
Finally, the glasses I’ve worn do a less-than-stellar job of keeping the wind out of my eyes. When it drops below 40 or so, it’s immediately apparent by the fact that it looks like I’m bawling like a baby. Tears just stream down my face b/c of the cold wind. I need some cycling glasses that do a great job keeping the eyes out of the wind. I almost bought some onion goggles, but they were a touch too small. That’s the idea, though.
So, I have a few things to procure before winter really sets in, but for the most part, I’m nearly completely covered. Last year taught me a lot of hard lessons with regards to staying warm in the freezing cold and wind. As I said, my fingers and toes are the hardest to protect. There were a few mornings when I was sure I'd take off the gloves or the socks to black frostbitten fingers. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, but the pain was still very real. I'm hoping that I'm prepared enough for that this year. My route is shorter by two miles, and it was during those last two miles last year that the most pain occurred, so I'm confident this winter won't be as hard.
In the end, it's all about preparation, and if you've not ridden in single digit weather before, you're just going to have to accept that it's going to be a trial by error process until you get it right.